Rerouting of subglacial water flow between neighboring glaciers in West Greenland

Chu, Wing Yin; Creyts, Timothy T.; Bell, Robin E.

Investigations of the Greenland ice sheet's subglacial hydrological system show that the connectivity of different regions of the system influences how the glacier velocity responds to variations in surface melting. Here we examine whether subglacial water flow paths can be rerouted beneath three outlet glaciers in the ablation zone of western Greenland. We use Lamont-Doherty and Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets of University of Kansas (CReSIS) ice-penetrating radar data to create a new ice thickness map. We then use a simple subglacial water flow model to examine whether flow paths can be rerouted and identify the topographic conditions that are sensitive to subglacial rerouting. By varying water pressures within an observationally constrained range, we show that moderate changes in pressure can cause flow paths to reroute and exchange water from one subglacial catchment to another. Flow across subglacial overdeepenings is particularly sensitive to rerouting. These areas have low hydraulic gradients driving flow, so subtle water pressure variations have a strong influence on water flow direction. Based on correlations between water flow paths and ice velocity changes, we infer that water piracy between neighboring catchments can result in a different spatial pattern of hydrologically induced ice velocity speedup depending on the amount and timing of surface melt. The potential for subglacial water to reroute across different catchments suggests that multiple hydrographs from neighboring glaciers are likely necessary to accurately ascertain melt budgets from proglacial point measurements. The relationship between surface runoff, ice dynamics, and proglacial discharge can be altered by rerouting of subglacial water flow within and across outlet glaciers.

Geographic Areas


  • thumnail for Chu_et_al-2016-Journal_of_Geophysical_Research-_Earth_Surface.pdf Chu_et_al-2016-Journal_of_Geophysical_Research-_Earth_Surface.pdf application/pdf 1.54 MB Download File

Also Published In

Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface

More About This Work

Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Earth and Environmental Sciences
Marine Geology and Geophysics
American Geophysical Union
Published Here
June 16, 2016